An Unlikely Hero

January 02, 2017 by Susanna Mommsen, Marketing Associate

A therapist helps guide a boy with special needs in a gait trainer as he eagerly walks towards the music playing during his sessionAt Rifton we talk a lot about heroes. They are the people we meet at schools and hospitals who care for people with multiple – and sometimes overwhelming – disabilities. People like Alicia in the photo at right, a physical therapist at Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center in Yonkers, who is helping Derrick learn to walk.

But take another look. Something has caught Derrick’s eye. Notice the eagerness in his face. There’s an unlikely hero he’s looking at. His name is Juan.

A man plays a guitar and sings to help a boy in a special needs chair focus on the task he is performingJuan works as a housekeeper at Elizabeth Seton. But that doesn’t begin to describe what he means to the staff there. They’ve discovered that when children like Derrick start moving uncontrollably nothing calms them down like Juan’s singing. The morning we arrived for a photo shoot Derrick, who can’t speak, was rocking in his chair. Alicia called Juan, and even as he took out his guitar we could see his effect on Derrick. Juan sat down and started to sing. Nothing fancy, but beautiful, with feeling – for an audience of one. To Juan, nobody else in the room mattered. For Derrick, it made all the difference. He calmed down. He could focus on the task at hand, unencumbered by his involuntary movement. And for Derrick, that makes all the difference in his therapy session.

So once again we salute a hero, this one with no clinical title, no recognized therapy role, but in our eyes (and in Derrick’s) as important as any member of the therapy team.

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Tamara | January 04, 2017
This reminds me of an experience many years ago. As an OT wheelchair seating specialist I went to a school to work with a little girl I had known for a number of years. Someone told me where to find her, but she was not in the regular room. I heard piano music and a male voice singing elsewhere and followed the sound. It was the end of the school year, most kids were gone and we were working a late. Entering the room, I saw the music source. The girl's teacher was a fine musician who was playing the piano and serenading her, just the two of them. It was magical and I have never forgotten it. She was moving to a different town, it was his farewell to her and they had such a bond. I shared this story at her funeral several years later, it was so precious.
James Rhoads | January 04, 2017
That is absolutely perfect! I am certain that Juan has a place in the heart of everyone there, especially the children.
Ellyn | January 04, 2017
Beautiful. Through our walk with special children we have met many people fulfilling that type of role. Most recently for us was Maria Golden, creative expressions mentor through palliative care at Akron Children's Hospital in Akron , Ohio